By Kathryn Pope, University of Florida Levin College of Law
While the amount of information accessible about law school is beneficial, it can also lead to information overload. When I searched for materials to get myself ready for the “law school mindset,” I did not know where to begin to look. Thankfully, I was introduced to BARBRI Law Preview and found that program to be the most natural and helpful transition into prepping for law school. Before completing Law Preview, I found that I was reading too much information about law school, often unvetted, and felt overwhelmed at times. The best advice that I received, which allowed me to craft this must-read list of books every law student should read, is to avoid materials that promise shortcuts or quick avenues to success in law school. They simply are not conducive to successful exam outcomes.
Four books I highly recommend
You’ll find these are great resources for incoming law students and also current law students. They provide a 10,000-foot view of the law, offer no shortcuts for legal analysis, demystify the law school experience and target your potential areas of strength and weaknesses based on your characteristics.
1) A Short and Happy Guide series
If you have not already heard of this series, I almost guarantee that you will hear it mentioned by students when you begin law school.
“A short and happy guide” series offers a wide array of topics, including all first-year doctrinal courses: Torts, Property, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. It aims to break down law school courses into a manageable and simplified version, hence the title. I can attest that I am far happier since finding these resources and definitely consider them one of the books every law student should read.
Each is authored by a leading academic in that specialty area. One of my personal favorites is A Short & Happy Guide for Civil Procedure, written by Professor Rich Freer, one of the leading figures in Civil Procedure and currently teaches at Emory Law. Civil Procedure is such a formulaic, rule-driven course that can often appear overwhelming at times. Professor Freer does a great job of distilling concepts into manageable portions that are easier to digest.
For example, in my Civil Procedure class, we discuss federal subject matter Jurisdiction, which requires understanding how a case can be brought into the lower federal courts. A Short & Happy Guide for Civil Procedure explains each aspect of this concept into short and easy-to-understand sections. I guarantee if you spend any time researching Civil Procedure supplements, you will find mention of Professor Freer.
BARBRI also offers excellent resources to help prospective law students navigate the uncertainty of law school. Be on the lookout for free webinars that BARBRI offers. I recently listened to a BARBRI webinar on “How to Succeed in Law School” hosted by Professor Freer and found that it mirrored his A Short & Happy Guide for Civil Procedure.
Both emphasize that the best way to approach law school is to paying attention in class, understand your specific professor’s expectations and take effective notes on homework and in-class lectures.
And if you happen to need some additional help in how to turn your notes into effective outlines, BARBRI.com has compiled everything you need to know right here.
2) Deconstructing Legal Analysis: A 1L Primer by Peter T. Wendel
I found this book incredibly helpful in breaking down the legal analysis required for constructing your case briefs. Law school differs from undergrad in that you are not merely reading cases and regurgitating facts on an exam. Homework in law school requires you to read and analyze each case actively. While many publications explain how to go about this process, Deconstructing Legal Analysis: A 1L Primer offers practice cases that test your ability to ascertain the core facts, issues, and rules statements.
Side note: I would recommend using a pencil to complete the exercises in this book because my first attempt at “Pierson v. Post” resulted in numerous failed attempts at determining the rule statement.
This book also recommends adding a “critique” section to your case brief, where you can add criticisms and analysis of the court’s opinion. I have found that many of my professors spend a fair amount of class time asking us questions similar to what I’ve included in my critique sections.
3) 1L of a Ride by Andrew J. McClurg
I am sure that most incoming law students have heard of this book in some capacity. I found that it did a great job of demystifying law school and focusing on law school comprehensively, versus strictly the first year.
1L of a Ride also discusses study strategy, how to give the best impression to professors and classmates, an explanation of your first-year classes, case briefing advice plus guidance in maintaining your physical and emotional health.
4) Juris types: learning law through self-understanding by Martha M. Peters and Don Peters
This book is not as widely discussed as some of the others I’ve listed, yet I found it immensely insightful. It takes your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and then discusses your strengths and weaknesses as a law student and future attorney. I specifically found this helpful for pointing out potential blind spots before starting law school.
For example, my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is ISTJ: Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging. Some of my potential blind spots are that being cold-called can often break my train of thought (which happened to me this week) and that I need time to mentally process what I am going to say before saying it, so cold calls can be difficult.
I hope that you find these books every law student should read as helpful as I have. Happy reading!